you've done to maintain fundingd for arts organizations like hers. it's really important, and so thank you very much. i'd like to start out today by reading a quotation from winston churchill. which is, you can always count on the americans to do the right thing after they've triedin everything else. [laughter] it's a wonderfully funny line, typically churchillian, butth there are a lot of emotions behind it; exasperation, angerit and bitterness among them. .. a wonderfully funny line, and exasperation, anger and bitterness. churchill clearly felt those emotions in the desperate days of 1940-1941, when we the last ones in europe standing against him but the british had been bombed night after night by the
mustafa when german submarines operated in the atlantic seeking vast amounts of merchant shipping. and basically strangling british supply lines. this island nation back then was very close to defeat. and the words of field marshal allen broke, britain's top military leader during the war we were hanging on by our eyelids. the united states meanwhile, the only country that could save britain was sitting on the sidelines debating endlessly about what to do. and they have been running primarily, and from the viewpoint of several americans, and here's what the u.s. was
doing. what i found was an extraordinary story. and one i didn't realize i knew very much about and i don't think most people do. and you have read about the issues, and this focuses on matters of policy, questions of policy. most of them have not looked at the human story of the time, the ferocious of the fight. the nail biting suspense over whether britain would be saved. the extreme polarization not unlike today that for a part
friendships, and and for moments leading up to pearl harbor, it is not as obvious as it is now. people were very divided on what to do. and both sides were at a fever pitch. a young cbs correspondent at the time. they call the period bitter and heart broking. the historian arthur/injured junior who was a twentysomething graduate student was caught up in the struggle and later called it a politically savage debate in my lifetime. in his autobiography is schlesinger wrote historians have dealt with policy issues justice has not been done, the searing personal impact of those angry days and you probably have guessed i took the title of the
book from that's messenger quote. during the years i write about what was then called the great debate, raise throughout the nation from the white house and congress to beauty parlors, offices and classrooms, the biggest cities and the smallest towns, millions of people to college students to wall street lawyers and bankers were caught up in the struggle knowing that whatever outcome their lives were likely to be profoundly affected. at stake was not only the survival of britain put the stake and future of america. what was the united states going to be? a fortress countries that refused to break out of its isolationist shell, still believing it must be free from foreign commitments. those who believe that must be ready to fight for the defense of our own nation, but for nothing and no one else. on the other hand those who
supported intervention said we could no longer repay international responsibility. the times were far too dangerous. britain's survival was absolutely essentials for our own security and welfare. if the british were defeated and have a controlled all of europe, we would have little chance to survive as a free and democratic society. others in the interventionist camp emphasized what they saw as america's moral obligation to stop hitler, the embodiment as they view him of your evil. how could we stand on the sidelines as hitler threatened to wipe out western civilization as we know it. at the center of this debate two men in my title, the most famous men in america, president franklin roosevelt and charles lindbergh, the young man who
mesmerized the world in 1927 when he flew alone across the atlantic. fdr wanted america to come to the aid of britain, lindbergh became the unofficial leader and spokesman for the country's isolationists believed the united states must take hold of the war and focus on its own defense. if i could give you some background why he felt that way. i love that description, one strange do, one odd person, probably the strangest, most conflicted man i have ever written about and to this day i don't understand him. after the murder and kidnapping of his son in the 1930s charles lindbergh took refuge in europe with his family, first in britain, then in france. george also mentioned lindbergh was never comfortable with his celebrity. somebody who wrote about my book on amazon, the best line about
charles lindbergh i ever read which was no one was less suited to the charles lindbergh than charles lindbergh and that is absolutely true. he never liked publicity. he was a very solitary reserved man who didn't much being -- like being around people, he hated the press from the beginning and always trying to stay away from it. he and his wife were convince the kidnapping of his son, the murder of his son was directly connected with the publicity that surrounded them and him from islam moment he made that flight. he decided to go to europe where he said people treated him better and he basically lost trust in american democracy. equated what happened to him with the state of american democracy and the state of american politics. for several years he and his family first lived in england
and then in france. during that time he spent a considerable amount of time in germany and the germans saw him as somebody, as a possible way of getting across their story at least in terms of their military. he was invited by the head of the luftwaffe to come and 4 airports and aircraft factories and what they were hoping was what tour airports and aircraft factories and what they were hoping was what happened. he was very impressed and came to the conclusion they were countries in decline and the only one that was really emerging and rising was germany and basically germany was going to be unbeatable in any future war and the u.s. should stay as far away from it as possible and he made that very clear when he was in germany and when he came back. one of the things that surprised
me when i was doing research for the book was how brutal this debate was for everyone. fdr himself said it was going to be a dirty fight. that is a direct quote and he did what to make it that way. was convinced the isolationists, particularly lindberg pose a major threat to the country and to himself. he and his supporters embarked on a campaign to damage their credibility, their influence and their reputation. calling them among other things subversives and even not cease. this wasn't put on. fbi did believe lindbergh was a nazi which was not true. he was pro german in many ways but was not a nazi. fdr all-out -- this is one of the most wonderful stories in the book. a lot of covert british intelligence organizations to operate in the united states, they operated out of the building directly across the
street in st. patrick's cathedral in rockefeller center. more than a thousand of them, agents. this operation have the bland innocuous title british security coordination and its main job was to get america into the door no matter how. it carried out its own campaign, relying on anti-war groups, digging up any jerked they could find on isolation, smoking congress outside, wiretapping phones of diplomats in washington, propaganda in u.s. newspapers and even forging documents. these were british intelligence operatives operating in this country. we were a neutral country at that point, much of this with extremely illegal. i hasten to add that lindbergh and other prominent isolationists were not blameless in this but they were not nearly as good at it as the
intervention, they portrayed fdr as a dictator along the same lines as hitler and mussolini and claimed he was responsible for destroying free speech in america and rushing into war without the people's consent. during these years, washington, somewhat like today, was a real snake pit filled with entry and in fighting. just to give you one example, there are a number of high-ranking officers in the army, navy and air corps who are doing their best to sabotage the policies of fdr who was after all their commander-in-chief. many of them were isolationists. that surprised me. call me naive, but i can and to think of the military as being of a terrific. many of them were not in this period. many of them are convinced america should stay out of the war, stay clear of the war at least until we build up our own defenses, we are in really bad
shape. several of them the top-secret isolation members of congress and to when deberg and other key leaders in the anti-war movement. among them was an army colonel named truman smith. general george marshall's chief adviser on germany, at that time, head of the army, chief of staff of the army and at the same time trumans smith was one of lindbergh's closest friends and was actively working with lindbergh in the isolationist cause. the biggest of all turned out to be general arnold who was head of the air force. arnold just before pearl harbor was implicated in the leak of one of the administration's most closely guarded military secrets, a contingency plan for all-out war against germany. that bitter polarization that
existed in washington was echoed throughout the country. in those angry days, i write a lot about charles lindbergh's wife who was caught in the middle of this nasty fight. she was the daughter of white tomorrow, a former jpmorgan partner who then became a u.s. ambassador and senator. she had grown up as part of the east coast establishment which tended to be pro-british and interventionist. because she supported her husband in his isolationism although he and would never convince her this was the right thing to do, she found herself a strange from virtually all for old friends and acquaintances, all the people she had grown up with who looked on lindbergh in her words as the anti christ. all of this took an enormous emotional toll on her. what was particularly painful for her was the split within her own family and this i did not
know before i started looking in to getting into research for this book. she was supporting her husband, charles lindbergh and his isolationism, her mother was one of the leading activists for interventionism and her sister constance who was her best friend worked with her husband, aubrey morgan, constance malraux morgan was married to one of the top british propagandists in the u.s. and so charles lindbergh was doing everything he could to prevent the u.s. from getting into the war, his brother-in-law was doing everything he could to get into the war, and their wives were on either side of that equation. fdr was caught in the middle too between interventionists who wanted him to do more than he had been doing for england and isolationists who wanted him to focus on the u.s..
the first term, roosevelt, not surprisingly, had been focused on recovery. focusing on domestic issues. he stayed away from foreign policy and as a result he had not really educated the public that we might get involved somehow in stopping hitler. george is right, the fbi you see in this book is not the same fbi most people are used to reading about. when we think about that, we think of bold leadership which he did show in the first years of his presidency with the new deal, the emergence of the new deal, those critical years we could have gone either way, the country could have gone down the tubes. he did help rescue the country then. the second period of his very bold leadership was after we got into the war, after we got into world war ii that during those critical years, 39-41, he was
very forceful in what he said about action. called for action to help britain and end german aggression but sometimes procrastinated in making such action reality. why was he like that? it was a very difficult time for him personally and politically. only about two years before, he had suffered the greatest political defeat in his presidency. he tried to pass the supreme court in 1937 and that was a disaster. he was humiliated by congress which defeated that bill and he was humiliated by voters in his unsuccessful effort to purge his democratic congressional opponents. he tried to do that in the 1938 congressional election and the voters said no. virtually everybody campaigned against won reelection. this was the lowest point of his
presidency and it coincided unfortunately with the period in which hitler and mussolini were stepping up their march toward war. pretty much hamstrung from the punishment he suffered at the hands of congress and temporarily lost his confidence that once had been absolute that the american people would always stand behind him. from then on until pearl harbor he tended to exaggerate the power of congressional isolationists and was quite reluctant to challenge them. the important thing to remember is he did not mind being pushed by others to do more and they did and the main deck of my book is to talk about how ordinary americans play an important role in building the public opinion for the idea we would have to get into this war. throughout this period fdr was urged on by several private citizens groups, they mounted massive campaigns to educate
america in favor of interventionism. the work of these organizations of -- according to one prominent interventionist allowed roosevelt to move gingerly in the direction of saving his sleeping country. interventionist groups played a critical role in the administration's decision to send 50 destroyers to britain. he also helped assuage roosevelt to make important changes in his cabinet and veba the chief force in convincing a sceptical fdr and congress to approve the first time first peacetime draft in the summer of 1940. you can imagine the first peacetime draft in 1940 and it was in the middle of a presidential campaign. but in fact congress and roosevelt didn't belong with that. a coalition of political amateurs hijacked the largely isolationist republican party and at one of the most in
american history -- a former businessman who announced his candidacy seven weeks before. it is wendell willkie, he was a strong interventionists unlike most of the people in the republican party and he supported much of fdr's foreign policy even though politically it cost him dearly. he backed the destroyer deal and supported the peacetime draft much to the acre and dismay of gop leaders. and after he lost in november of 1940, when pull willkie went on the radio to announce to the american people we have elected franklin roosevelt president. he is your president, he is my president, we will support him and he did exactly that. a few months later, again to the fury of the republican old guard, wendell willkie endorsed legislation creating glen and
les. roosevelt would describe wendell willkie as a godsend to his country when we needed him most. the president also acknowledged that his support for the draft, which were crucial in the allies winning the war might well have made the difference between victory and defeat and the passage of those bills in congress. before i close of the like to talk about something else, the isolationist side, america first. how many of you have heard of america first? at least half of you. it was the most influential and vocal isolationist organization in the country. the story of america first and how it was created is for me one of the most interesting things i learned in all my research for this book. those of you who know of america first i would wager when you think of it you think of it as a
conservative midwestern organization, the embodiment of midwestern isolationism. actually it was born on the campus of yale university. the brainchild of a group of top campus leaders, most of whom were moderate or liberal. the founders of america first included gerald ford, future presidents of the united states, potter stewart, a future supreme court justice, sargent shriver, future head of the peace corps and key members, future president of yale, u.s. ambassador to great britain. that is ironic since america first was founded one of its key points was not to give aid to britain. america first organizing to let britain go down. three examples of america first supporters at this time included harvard senior named john f. kennedy, a cornell university student named kurt vonnegut and
a precocious student named gore vidal who founded a chapter of america first. their opposition isn't all that surprising if you think about it. they didn't know they were going to be the greatest generation in a few years. they didn't think of this as a good war back then. they knew that if we got into the war they were going to be among the first to fight ends millions of them revolted against the very thought of american participation in another bloody european conflict. remember it was only 20 years since world war i had ended. that was supposed to be the war to make the world save for democracy, that was what woodrow wilson told the american people. actually made the world save for adolf hitler. the european allies didn't cooperate. stood aside while hit a came to power.
no way do we want to get involved in another one of these things. so the opposition of the college students in 1939-1941 to me was very much like the 1960s and vietnam. there is not that much difference. shortly after america first was organized it did move to chicago and from then on most of its leaders would be those midwestern conservative businessmen we think about now and their social and political views were more conservative than its young founders. by the time of pearl harbor most of those who helped found america first had drifted away from the organization. when the united states finally entered the war, they along with of the vast majority of other college anti-war activists enlisted in the fight. all the young founders i mentioned, every single one of them actually did go into the military and a number of them as we know, john f. kennedy, saw
combat as did sargent shriver and several others. the creation of america first, the way it was done underlines one of the most interesting aspects of its time in our country, how so many ordinary americans got involved in this debate and had an affect on its outcome. as i said before, millions of people became involved in the fight. for all its bitterness and anger was their real exercise in democracy. in talking about this i am reminded about what president obama said number of weeks ago in israel and made a speech to israeli students. he said the political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take risks and a little later in the speech he said ordinary people can are accomplish extraordinary things and in the period i write about ordinary people did accomplish extraordinary things.
they had an impact on the president, foreign policy and public opinion. by the time of pearl harbor thanks in large part to this push that people made, public attitudes -- in 1949 and even in the early part of 1940s this country was heavily isolationist. by the time of pearl harbor the american people were well aware they would have to have the fight to answer this war. most came to the conclusion it was necessary. according to polls in 1941, substantial majority of the u.s. population now are regarded defeating nazi is and as the biggest job facing the country and a similar majority preferred u.s. entry into the war to a german victory over britain blue psychological and emotional separation for war was one major reason for the immediate unity of the country, once war was
declared against japan, germany and italy. after all the bitter conflict of the previous two years america was finally ready to claim its future. thank you. [applause] >> now we come to the favorite part, at least for me of my talk and that is questions and comments. anybody? there is a microphone, come to the mic. just repeating what i have been told. >> is this on? can you hear me? two things. did you go into the role of eleanor roosevelt in this period, especially her
relationship with wendell willkie and also what support from germany did isolationists' groups received in the united states? >> very good question. i did not explore eleanor roosevelt's role in this book. i mention her several times. hair relationship was really after pearl harbor. my book ends with pearl harbor. i talk about what happened briefly to everyone and it stops at pearl harbor. second question, very good question, what role did germany have in the hole isolationist movement. almost none. the germans were very aware that even though the country was isolationist early on, most americans were very anti german, very anti nazi and they knew the
more overt help they gave, it would backfire. so they tried very hard to stay out of the public eye in terms of isolationists. they obviously were pulling for the isolationists because they wanted to stay out of the war but everytime they tried to do something it backfired. they had one of the most inept organizations, the british were incredibly good at what they were doing, spying, sabotaging, etc. they also sent agents to the u.s. but inevitably they would be caught and the germans sent cable after cable saying you have done it again. these guys keep getting arrested by the fbi, turning everybody against us and this idea that the administration and the british were promoting in this country than there were millions of fifth columnists around the u.s. undermining this country
was not at all true. they were doing -- it really was a very bad organization that they had in their country. >> your answer to the last question was interesting because we had the opposite impression of german the efficiency. my question is totally different. after pearl harbor, roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against japan but did not ask for a declaration of war against germany and it was only because three days later hitler chose to declare war against the u.s. that we got into the war with germany. if hitler had not done that do you think we would have had only a pacific war? >> that is a really good question. the answer is i don't know. we would not i am sure have gotten into the war against germany for a while. whether we would have gone into the war in time to saving 7-saving and from going down is an open question. roosevelt at the time of pearl harbor was surged by a number of
his closest aides and members of his cabinet to declare war on germany and japan at the same time but he said no. it is a different situation, germany and japan. he was prepared to stay out as long as he could. quite frankly one of the stupidest things hitler ever did was declare war on us. it was one of the best things in the sense that it got us in at that time because as i said, i am not sure how long england would have been able to hold out against germany and japan. they would have been facing a two front door. we would have been focused on japan. that is the country that attacked us, if we had not gotten into the war with germany the american people would have continued. world could have been very different if hitler had not declared war on us when he did. >> i have a two card question.
what is fact, one is speculation. how do you explain roosevelt was popular and got reelected after two large defeats that he had prior to the e election. that is one. the second one, the speculation, had there not been a world war ii where would roosevelt have ranked in this best president? >> the first question was tell me again? -- he won his third term frankly because the war had broken out. the american people tend to unite behind their chief executive in times of crisis, especially international crisis.
going into -- until the early 1940s, summer of 1940 when hitler launched his blitzkrieg roosevelt claimed he wasn't going to run. it is a lot of feeling that he would have been defeated but the new deal had run its course, the republicans were coming back, they were becoming much stronger in the country but when hitler invaded western europe, launched the blitzkrieg of western europe and england was all by itself, a lot of things happened. the american people rallied behind roosevelt, they needed veteran presidents, experienced president to take us through this critical time and roosevelt himself decided during this period that he was going to be the one to lead the country. i am sorry. i am having a moment.
the second one -- >> if there had not been a world war ii where would he have been ranked? >> he still would have ranked very high. what he did with the new deal, leading this country away from the brink, the economic brink, he would still be ranked one of the top presidents. the combination of his leadership at that point and his leadership in the war, a number of things i don't agree with in terms of what roosevelt did during the war but no question he was a very strong leader. maybe that boosted him up a couple of rankings, but he still would have been one of our top presidents even if there hadn't been a war. >> i want to thank you so much for writing this book. thank you for reading it. i have to say because i'm a normal sharing kind of person i found out about lynn olson's troublesome young men and have to report to everyone is one of
the most fantastic book i ever read, a seminal book. most of us didn't learn these things in our history classes in public, private, parochial, whatever schools. lynn olson 11 has indicated as in a period of history that is similar to what we are going through now. i want to thank you so much and looking forward to reading this book. in this book i know i can find the answer to this question but again i thought everybody would be interested in hearing the answer as i am. could you name one of the interventionist groups? you mentioned the america first, would you mind? >> there were two that were the most important, one was the century grew and it was named after the century club in new york which was one of the top used to be all men private clubs, basically it was a group of mostly prominent new yorkers, many from the media, when it was
organized, this is quite revolutionary in 1940, we should get into the war immediately against germany. that was not the way the country was thinking or the way roosevelt was thinking that this group is incredibly influential because of its members and the power they had. they were henry luce who was the honor of time life magazine, fortune magazine's, and the most popular magazines in this country, basically conduct a propaganda war in those magazines to get us into the war and that was very influential and there were a number of -- several people from the tribune were members of the century group including joseph house of who was the 30-year-old correspondent in washington. that was a big group. the other group which is much bigger and more nationally national in scope was the group
-- committee to defend the allies, committee to defend the allies, a very long name, organized by william allen right. and you may know the name, he was a very famous editor from kansas. very popular. and in the middle of the road, an incredible influence, in educating public opinion about issues involved. and get into the war. >> we it think of today's issues as polarizing. fiscal issues or military ones.
these issues before the decision were made were equally polarizing. and people have strong opinions as today. >> it certainly was polarizing, perhaps more polarizing and one reason i wrote the book was to show history isn't often what we learn in school. it tends to be cast in a black-and-white mode. certainly world war ii, we think of that. as i said the good war. but it was much more complex. i wanted to show that the american people have never been yes, sir, we will follow along. it was certainly as polarizing as this time and more so. sometimes when i despair about
what is going on i look back and say it was even worse, but one thing that period had is both political groups, people in both political groups are prepared to cooperate and compromise. wendell willkie is a perfect example of that. you have a presidential candidate who is willing to support his opponent's policy because in his heart he thinks it is right. he thinks it is important for the country. and is willing to say that and then after he loses is willing to say he is my president. we will support him. we don't really have that around and that is very disturbing. to get back to your point, it was just as bad or worse back then. gives us hope that maybe something can be resurrected out of this thing we are going
through. any more questions? yes? >> given lindbergh's fear of getting into the public and the press, what combination of factors drove him to be one of the leaders against the war? >> u.s. really good questions. that is a really good question. charles lindbergh, one of the things about charles lindbergh he was always, whenever he took a position he always thought he was right. there was never any doubt in charles lindbergh's mind about what he should be doing or thinking. ..
>> i think it was the biggest mistake, well, he made a lot of mistakes in his life, but it was certainly the biggest mistake during that period that he made because he just tarnished his reputation as a result of that. charles lindbergh was never happy unless he was flying. i mean, what he could do really well was fly. he knew aviation inside and out. and, you know, getting involved in something that he really knew nothing about was a very big be mistake on his part. >> after the war started, can you tell us briefly about what
charles lindbergh did? i mean, he had a lot of, i guess, intelligence based on his tour of germany and all that kind of stuff. was he, um, participating after the war broke out in any kind of way on a pro-u.s. side? >> that is one -- that's really one of the most interesting things about charles lindbergh's life, is what happened after the war. after the war, when pearl harbor happened, he disappeared from the isolationist movement. he was gone. he didn't criticize roosevelt publicly, he did not criticize the administration publicly. what he wanted to do was to be able to fight. he wanted to be able to go into the air force and fight. fdr said absolutely not. i'm not about to have you in the air force. i mean, he still -- fdr still believed that he was a threat to the administration even though he wasn't. so he was banned from taking part militarily.
he became a civilian consultant to a number of airline companies, and what he did, he tested the new military planes and actually helps make them safer and improve their flying ability, etc. a couple of years after the war began some of his military friends came to him and said why don't you go to the pacific and be a civilian consultant there. and lindbergh said, well, roosevelt won't let me. and they said, well, why does roosevelt need to know? and so he went to the pacific as a civilian consultant wearing a military uniform without any insignia, and he flew. he flew on a number of missions, was almost shot down, shot down one japanese zero. and in the course of this time over there he also, again, improved a number of new airplanes. and from all accounts he was never happier. i mean, you know, this is where he really belonged. and his wife once said those
five months that he spent in the pacific were the happiest, was the happiest time in his life. i don't know, i suspect that roosevelt did find out eventually that he was over there. but all of the military people that he flew with turned, looked the other way, you know? it was never, there were never stories about him flying. it was very hush hush. but he did have an impact on, a small impact on, certainly, on the flying in the pacific. i think we have time for one more question if anybody has a question or a comment. okay, george. [laughter] >> so talk, your book so balanced, and there was a lot of character assassination on both sides. but talk about what you found about anti-semitism in the isolationist movement and with respect to the big speech that lindbergh gave. what did that reveal about his
own mindset and his views about the races? >> there was anti-semitism in the isolationist movement, not throughout. but anti-semites did join america first, for example. charles lindbergh did give this very infamous speech in des moines, iowa, in which he named the three groups he said were most responsible for trying to get us into the war, and that was the fdr administration, the british and american jews. and his comments were anti-semitic. but what i point out in the book is that he was not alone. i mean, basically, what he was doing was reflecting the attitudes of a good many americans at the time. there was a very strong, overt streak of anti-semitism in this country, in this period, during this period. and i don't write this in the book, but basically what i think is charles lindbergh's mistake was that he voiced -- i mean, it was a mistake to have those attitudes, obviously, but he
voiced in a public speech, you know, what other people were saying privately. and this, again, shows his total tone deafness to, you know, politics, to whatever. but he didn't care. be but there's no question that there was this very big kind of climate of anti-semitism that extended, you know, from, you know, you know, the midwest into washington and the state department, the war department. i read diaries of important state department officials, and it's appalling. i mean, what charles lindbergh said in that speech was nothing compared to what they were writing privately in their diaries at the time. okay. thank you very, very much.
>> you're watching book tv, nonfiction authors and books every weekend on c-span2. >> you're watching book tv. jonathan lyons recounts the introduction of the enlightenment to america and the role that benjamin franklin played in his development. this is a little over an hour. [applause] >> thank you for those kind words. i forgot about some of that stuff. it's always good to a get a refresher course. it is really wonderful to be here in seattle. i mentioned to some of you when i first arrived, wife and i have only recently relocated to a pacific northwest. we are based on a portland, oregon. we left washington d.c., the other washington. there is one institution, the library of congress, where i wrote this book and most of my three earlier books as well. but i no quality of discourse,
particularly civic discourse, will be greatly improved in the know also that benjamin franklin would be particularly pleased to know i am speaking here tonight and would commend this institution on its civic minded this. a project or. he loves projects, social projects. for him, as i hope to show you tonight, knowledge was a social activity and exemplified by the programs you have here at town hall. but i do have to say one thing, i think he would probably frown at the grumman revival architecture. [laughter] again, as i hope to make clear, franklin was a fellow of classical learning and felt that it was a real weight around the neck of middle-class aspiring workers who wanted to get educated, the notion that they had to learn latin and greek in and study philosophy. so i only speak for about 35 minutes and up to allow time for questions. i have been told that this is an audience that is banned for
discussion and questions. so i welcome mat to. it is the best part of teaching when i teach in universities. only two parts of like. interacting with the students. i'm not too keen on all the other stuff. i write books. but any case, before i launch into an overview of this project to want to tell you a little bit about the history of this particular book. as you probably gather from the very kind and detailed interaction, this is a new direction for me. it will be fair for you to be wondering where that direction came from. that direction came from a footnote. i am one of those readers and i'm sure some of you are who will elect three footnotes, not those that have citation and page number and volume, but footnote's where an author contribute something, recognizes that a fact a point of discussion is worthy of inclusion but somehow does not fit. that is really rich material for
me. i can come along and say that is cool. maybe i should look into that. so i was reading something completely unrelated to american history, probably comes as no surprise that it was a work of cultural criticism on the relationship between islamic and western world. in any case, there was a footnote, and did mention the role of the societies for useful knowledge. i thought, wow fair. that is something and need to look into. and i did. the actual reference was to the british institution. as i started to explore the subject and found that some very rich history here in america. as i got more and more involved, the figure of benjamin franklin kept encouraging on my thinking. and so i decided to look at this movement, as i college, for useful knowledge sibila as of franklin and use his life story to help tell the saga of the genesis and development and the import of this movement for
useful knowledge. this is not to say that i read biography. i very bullet to deliberately did not. working in a library of congress makes a daunting. if you go to the catalog online and put in benjamin franklin title search you get over 1,000 volumes. i figured the market was saturated with benjamin franklin biographies. instead, the society here useful knowledge explorers the roots of early american technology and science. these are forces that steadily transform this country first into an industrial superpower and only then into a geopolitical one. now, the the stuff of legend. we talk about the wright brothers, thomas edison, steve jobs, steve was an act and, of course, we could add many others. henry ford, bill gates. and we often hear this phrase
tamale in american. it is often associated with these kind of figures. only in america could to bicycle mechanics launch an aviation industry and so forth. now, what is important as all of these figures share a number of key traits. one, they were largely or holy self-taught. that is, they were not products of formal education. as a result they freed themselves from the constraints and conventional wisdom and traditional authority. they preferred practical solutions to a theoretical discussions. there were, in essence, engineers, not mathematicians. in other words, they were supreme practitioners of what i mean by useful knowledge. now, attempts in general to explain america's technological prowess i found generally revolve around the notion that it is our political and social systems that provided the ideal platform for innovation and for the ssc economic growth,
prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness. so in this view it was the new republic shape by the founding fathers that set the stage for an explosion of innovation during the 19th and 20th centuries. an explosion that we can all agree continues to this day. a key component of this success would include the creation of liberal democracy, is a fair approach to capitalism, that passage of a strong patent law and other protections for intellectual property. yet i would argue that this is what is known as a history of the present. it is a misreading of historical development strive by working backward from today's america. my overarching purpose in writing this society for useful knowledge is to propose a very different reading of american history. now, as i show in my book and as i can only really outline for
you today, the american revolution represents less of a turning point and a significant milestone and a journey that begun -- began not at lexington or conquered in the spring of 1775 but in that study circles, public libraries, and useful knowledge societies that took shape in colonial cities and towns almost 50 years earlier. so long before there was a boston tea party or any other overt acts of defiance to imperial british royal american practitioners of useful knowledge and the institutions that they developed successfully challenged the social, political, and intellectual author of the day. the accompanying knowledge revolution, which is epitomized by franklin and the circles -- is in media circles beginning as early as the 17 twenties freed the colonists of constraints, imported and imposed, from europe. was this knowledge revolution that led the groundwork for
american independence. so the central actors in my story, not surprisingly, are not the founding fathers, although a number of them to make cameo appearances. jefferson, of course, was involved in science and washington and hamilton among others were members of the american philosophical society which talked-about -- out talk about in a few minutes. frank and straddle the political and scientific world. rather my focus is on an earlier cohort of partisan, craftsman, an independent farmers' captivated by to particular ideas borrowed from the european enlightenment and then shaped by the american spirit -- experience. what were these? one, the value of learning and knowledge that is what we call information and data it today is directly proportional to its practical import or utility. in other words, to be of any real doubt your knowledge as to be truly useful.
and second, that anyone, not just the highborn, the well-educated, those fluent in latin and greek could take part in the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of saw it -- science and knowledge and general. so what we really had was business growing -- this exciting growing movement that gathered momentum and was a movement for useful knowledge and then a challenge to traditional elites have maintained their release status their educational system that was relatively restricted, particularly in europe. and colonial education was dominated by the same elites, and they wanted their son, lee sons at the time received higher education, to have the mark of a real gentleman, which meant latin and greek learning. franklin and his circle started to see things quite differently, and at one point he writes a letter to a young woman who he is tutoring in natural philosophy or science. and he said, signifies
philosophy that does not apply to some use? very much frankland's mantra and became kind of a slogan of the movement for useful knowledge. another aspect is that anyone can contribute. these ideas came out of england. francis bacon, john locke, david hume, among others had proposed a new way of doing science, one that allowed for not just the elites, but the petty merchant, the craftsman, even unskilled or untrained labor to contribute something meaningful science. it really was -- in american conditions really did not have an entrenched system of ruling elites. we had a lease bar who came across the ocean with the early colonists, but it was much more fluid within the social system. and so, as a result, there were quick demands from the bottom of for education and education that was truly useful.
so, if the american rebellion was at heart a knowledge revolution, as i argue, then who were the revolutionaries? let's take a look at some of the leading figures in the early american movement for useful knowledge, all of whom appear as important characters in my book. cam sorry. i have the wrong one here. there we go. and benjamin franklin. yes, of course, we will talk about him in a few minutes and his role of head and breaking through and knowledge barrier of before that i want to introduce a few other figures who are, perhaps, less known. a farmer and botanist, john bartram, a quaker who lived a little bit outside philadelphia and gradually get drawn into the intellectual life of philadelphia through franklin and his associates. we will speak about him more later. deglaze year and mathematicians
thomas got free, a member of franklin's inner circle. and he invented an improved quadra for navigation. interestingly, he said this plan off to london which was in the heart of science claiming credit for a new and improved method of navigation. someone independently having invented a very similar system and happen to be sitting on the board of the royalties -- royal society. you can guess what happened, to get the official credit. it was eventually sorted out, and godfrey has been recognized as the coinventor of the improved plant. ebenezer kindersley. he was a minister who was in trouble with the congregational church of philadelphia. frankland, who was a newspaper publisher at the time, had gone to bat for kindersley. failed. and so he was out of work and franklin suggested that he take the results of the electrical
experiment and take them on the road and lecture. and he eventually became the most successful itinerant lecturer in american colonial history, traveling to the far north of the way down to the caribbean. these lectures were very important to the movement for useful knowledge because they gave access to the latest ideas and inventions, experiments, and hypotheses to a very broad audience that was not university trained. and it also highlighted the fact that knowledge was a personal face to face experience. you would go to one of his electoral shows, and he would give you a few minutes of explanation about the latest thinking about electricity. the fund stuff was he would get out his apparatus, generate static electricity. people would touch the glove. there hair would stand on end. he was shocked people. there would use electrified sorts to set alcohol or other spirits on fire, and it was all of your show, but it was not just show.
two very important aspects. it was much more widely available to a broader audience, but even more importantly, 18th-century science was very much connected with the bottle the experience and knowledge. it was not a theoretical realm. it was very important to a practical knowledge movement, useful knowledge movement that people could see or even experience for themselves the effects of these scientific phenomenon. finally, instrument maker david rittenhouse to stands out as a self-taught instrument maker and astronomer. he built three difficult and very -- beautiful and very complex planetariums. imagine:00 that not only tells you the time and the phases of the known, but it purports to tell you the accurate position of all five visible planets for any given day for in time by 5,000 years or backward by 5,000 years. it really was a wonder, and if